Futurice and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) co-led a nationwide, participatory speculative design project with the voluntary sector in Wales. WCVA is the national membership body for voluntary organisations. Futurice is a Nordic, value-driven technology and strategic innovation agency based across the UK and Europe.
This innovative, cross-sector partnership included support and participation from the Third Sector Support Wales (TSSW), the Welsh Government and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.
WCVA initiated the collaboration to identify how voluntary organisations in Wales can shape a resilient and thriving future beyond the COVID-19 recovery. WCVA partnered with Futurice to draw on their expertise in futures methodologies, strategic foresight and human-centred design.
In order to design one united 2030 vision that represents WCVA's membership and could act as a North star to guide the sector, the project combined approaches from service design, co-design and future foresight. Between May and August 2021 we collaborated with over 100 stakeholders associated with 80+ diverse voluntary sector organisations across Wales, as well as the public and private sectors.
WCVA and Futurice facilitated a series of horizon-scanning research sessions alongside collaborative exercises. Surveys, in-depth interviews, presentations and participatory futures workshops were some of the methods used to ensure diverse points of view were included. Future imaginaries were refined into one preferred guiding vision that represents the fundamentally different Wales participants want a decade from now - a just, green, caring and community-oriented society. Action ideas to transform the vision into reality were designed and initiated with participants.
A key outcome was the visual and compelling 'Voluntary Sector Futures' Report which formed part of WCVA and TSSW's 5-year strategic review in 2021, directing their strategy and business plan. The report showcases the vision, ideas for action and methodology so it can be replicated.
Beneficiaries who received the report:
-Voluntary sector (membership of WCVA and TSSW)
-Welsh Local Authorities, Health Boards and Public Service Boards
-Regional Partnership Boards
-UN Global Guardians for Future Generations group
-The Future Generations Commissioner
Other project impacts:- Insight and outcomes disseminated and driving action across Wales via the accessible public report in English and Welsh- New networks and commitments have been formed to take the vision forward- Highly innovative, participatory foresight tools designed- Process and impact helped prove the value of design and futures work in the sector-WCVA is using the report to inform and educate politicians and officials at all levels within the Senedd Cymru and Welsh Government-Power dynamics between WCVA and their membership shifted to be more democratic and inclusive, due to the quality of listening and mutual learning-New strategy agreed by 20 CVC (County Voluntary Council) partners more rapidly-Resilience, equity and diversity are central to partners' strategies due to the project
"The attentive space for listening created by Futurice was one of the strengths of the process... The report is a valuable compass for green and just recovery." - Suzanne Iuppa, Strategic Planning Officer, WCVA
VOLUNTARY SECTOR FUTURES
In 2021 the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) wanted to identify how voluntary organisations in Wales can shape a more resilient and thriving future through the COVID-19 recovery. They partnered with design agency Futurice to co-design and facilitate a participatory futures process.
One that would result in a preferred, speculative vision for Wales in 2030, and provide a paradigm-shifting North star for the sector to work towards collectively.
2. Background and Intent
WCVA provides support to charities, social enterprises and volunteers - the 'voluntary sector'. As the national body, they play a critical role researching, influencing, and connecting members to cross-sector partners and funding - distributing £47 million in funds from 2020-21.
Over four months WCVA and Futurice collaborated with over 100 stakeholders associated with over 80 diverse voluntary sector organisations across Wales, as well as the public and private sector to develop the collective vision and strategy ideas. Key project partners included the Third Sector Support Wales (TSSW) network, and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and the Welsh Government.
Project outcomes contributed directly to WCVA's and TSSW's five-year strategic and business plan reviews undertaken through 2021. The work will be used for other organisations' strategic thinking, and provide an example of how they can apply the open source Futurice 'Lean Futures Creation' and WCVA 'Building Better Futures' Toolkits freely available online.
This was an incredibly ambitious and innovative collaboration which will impact tens of thousands of people working in or supported by the voluntary sector over the next 5-10 years as WCVA and TSSW implement their strategy based on this work.
3. Design Approach
We designed a unique process to meet the challenge and scale of the project, whilst also adhering to design justice principle - prioritising local and traditionally marginalised points of view to envision more just futures. We combined the following approaches:
Design Justice Principles
System Change Practice
4. Technology and Methodology
Digitised, collaborative tools and templates supported workshop facilitation and capability building in a fun, collaborative and engaging way. Combining miro, video and calls enabled inclusion of people from across Wales. It also created a reusable format, extensive documentation and a red thread between sources and outcomes.
A series of workshops involving 15-20 cross-sector participants, combined with smaller sessions with the TSSW and WCVA Senior team members, took place regularly throughout to progress the work.
We divided the steps into 3 modules:
Module 1: Scoping and Horizon Scanning
We explored trends and extrapolated an expansive set of potential futures to promote discussion around what a plausible, preferred future might look like.
Key methods used alongside participatory futures workshops included:
Horizon-scanning: In-depth secondary research across a variety of sources for the most relevant trends and weak signals.
In-depth interviews: 1-to-1 sessions were held with different organisations, including private or non-governmental like the Future Generations Commissioner, grassroots organisations such as RCC (Race Council Cymru), nationwide voluntary organisations and youth representation from Scouts Cymru to name a few.
Voluntary Sector Community Survey: To be as representative as possible in determining preferred futures, a nationwide survey collected insight from people in the voluntary sector about their concerns and ideal vision for the next 10 years.
Affinity mapping and insight analysis: The core team synthesised research and workshop outcomes to progress to the next step, and fed back to participants.
A set of 54 seeds of change was generated from the secondary research and collaborative workshops. These statements provide insight into potential, preferred and positive futures based on participant input and innovative initiatives in Wales. The seeds of change are accessible as a commons via a public report for anyone to use. These create a springboard to support more visioning and actions that will positively impact the future.
The futures wheel activity built on this by engaging stakeholders to explore how seeds might grow over time towards 2030 and create positive impact. The end result was a variety of inspiring, co-created future impacts which provide a rich source of insight into the potential futures that the sector wants.
One of the most critical components of the work was to facilitate workshops that felt psychologically safe to share different challenges and dreams. Participants showed what happens when civic imagination is unleashed more equitably - radically inclusive visions:
"Our young people, asylum seekers and refugees are the future of Wales. We must create an environment where individuals can nurture their talents, fuel their passion and blossom into the fullest forms of themselves to contribute towards the society."
- Debanjali Bhattacharjee, Team Member for BAME Helpline Wales, EYST (Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team, workshop participant, June 2021)
MODULE 2: Creating a roadmap to a prefered future
We took the broad set of futures articulated through the futures wheels and consolidated them into a single shared vision of the preferred future. This involved extracting all the futures wheel outputs and clustering these into themes and an overall articulation of the world they described. This was iterated into one final preferred vision and future statements.
Cross-sector participants applied the future statements to 'The Three Horizons' activity to co-design a roadmap of collective action which could build a bridge between the present and the preferred future.
MODULE 3: A Strategy for our preferred future
The third module focused on starting to create a clear strategy and action plan for WCVA and TSSW to move towards the preferred future. A series of 'Planning Tree' workshops were undertaken with WCVA and TSSW to consider what actions and goals these organisations could take to support the whole sector.
Project participants prioritised six ideas for action that the voluntary sector in Wales can take to achieve the vision.
Support inclusion and fairness of access to technology and help overcome the digital divide
Redefine what success means and how social impact and value is measured
Grow local, international and cross-sector collaboration that raises the voluntary sector profile and builds on a positive narrative
Support genuine co-production and co-delivery of community-centric infrastructure
Empower individuals and communities to be self-sufficient
Learn and build on what worked effectively for the voluntary sector and communities in the pandemic, to strengthen the voluntary sector and wider society
Additional details about suggested actions are documented in the public report.
5. Value and Impact
The impact of this work has been very significant and exceeded expectations, from an individual and organisational to systemic level.
The radical vision acts as a paradigm shifting North star. This exercise successfully directed WCVA and the Third Sector Support Wales's 5-year strategic reviews, for instance leading to diversity and equity being integral in the strategy due to participant input. The goals will trigger action that will have positive impact on interconnected issues from social and economic to environmental.
A visual and compelling public 'Voluntary Sector Futures' Report was launched in English and Welsh in January 2022 which is being used by many different audiences. WCVA is using it to inform and educate politicians and officials at all levels within the Senedd Cymru and Welsh Government, and it has already been shared with the Future Generations Commissioner, Ministers and many other partners.
Other Beneficiaries include:
The entire voluntary and charitable sector in Wales (membership of WCVA and TSSW)
Voluntary sector internationally
Local Authorities, Health Boards and Public Service Boards in Wales
Regional Partnership Boards
The project has drawn international attention as a participatory futures benchmark. For instance, teams in the private and voluntary sector in Australia have gained our advice for a comparable nationwide project taking place. We've been invited to speak about the work at System Change Finland's seminars and the System Innovation London Conference.
The process was as important as the outputs - it helped to strengthen and diversify networks, ideas and partnerships for action. There have been significant cultural shifts within WCVA and TSSW, such as greater integration of member's wishes, more participation, listening, creativity and mutual learning due to the participatory futures activities. WCVA was delighted that all 20 County Voluntary Councils across Wales agreed on the new 5 year strategy more rapidly than in the past because it truly represents the future people want and are motivated to work together to achieve.
WCVA emphasised that looking at common issues society needs to address helped everyone step away from common day to day issues or divisions. To instead look at the big picture they need to work towards and how they can get there collectively. Power dynamics between WCVA and their membership shifted to be more democratic and inclusive, due to the quality of listening and mutual learning Futurice enabled during the process.
"The attentive space for listening created by Futurice was one of the strengths of the process and an opportunity for all participants to 'refresh and reset'. The report is a valuable conversation starter and compass for green and just recovery. Our work with Futurice has set us on a path to revitalise our strategic goals for the next five year period." - Suzanne Iuppa, Strategic Planning Officer, WCVA
The approach resulted in relationship building, new networks for change and cultural shifts within WCVA and TSSW that will have a lasting positive impact in and beyond the organisation.